KATHMANDU, Sept 21: The dream of Nepali people to promulgate new constitution through their elected representatives has come true nearly seven decades of travail and enormous costs. The seventh constitution of Nepal unveiled by President Dr Ram Baran Yadav on Sunday marks the culmination of the new democratic and republican political course Nepal's political actors chose through the 12-point understanding reached in November, 2005.
People's movement held on the basis of 12-point understanding in April 2005 not only dethroned King Gyanendra, who had usurped executive powers through unconstitutional means, but also laid ground to peacefully resolve the decade-long Maoist conflict.
The dream of Nepali people to draft new constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly (CA) was deferred for long. Although Nepali Congress (NC) had first raised the demand for a constituent assembly back in 1949, this did not materialize even after the abolition of the Rana rule and establishment of democracy. The Interim Government of Nepal Act, 1951 introduced after the success of people's movement transferred the sovereign power back to the King from Rana rulers, but this Act could not make Nepali people sovereign. As the post 1951 political instability made the CA election uncertain, NC leaders gave up their demand to draft new constitution through CA in 1956 and eventually agreed to participate in the first general election in 1959 as per the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1959, promulgated by King Mahendra.
The first democratic election in Nepal was held on February 18, 1959 and the NC secured 74 of the total 109 seats in the election. Although the first democratically elected government was formed on May 27, 1959 under the premiership of B P Koirala, the government could not last for long as King Mahendra staged a coup on December 15, 1960. And what followed next was the new Panchayati constitution in 1962 and advent of party-less Panchayati system that lasted for 30 years. As the Panchayati constitution promulgated by the King denied people even the basic rights to consolidate the Panchayat system, Nepali people continued with their struggle for democracy with a desire to transform themselves from subjects to citizens.
Although the 1990 constitution drafted by a team of experts and promulgated by the king was progressive in many ways, the constitution did not in true sense transform people from subjects to citizens. The constitution guaranteed multi-party democratic system with a number of fundamental rights, but Nepali people were still not recognized as the source of sovereign powers of the country. As not all were happy with the constitution that many termed as the best constitution in the world, a Maoist armed rebellion started six years later. While the Maoist armed rebellion spread like wildfire across the country, the massacre of entire members of incumbent king Birendra's family in 2001 brought a new twist in the Nepal's political course.
After Gyanendra, the brother of the assassinated king, ascended to the throne, there were a series of formal and informal talks between the government and Maoists. But the talks held from 2001 to 2004 did not yield any substantive results as the Maoists put forth drafting a new constitution through people's elected representatives as one of their key demands. Observers say high ambition of the then new king, who chose to take unconstitutional measure to dissolve the elected government and form a new government in October, 2002, and the deep realization of the Maoist rebels that their guerilla warfare tactics would not take their movement to a logical conclusion helped long-time arch rival Maoists and the mainstream political parties to join hands against the monarchy.
Unhappy over the handling of the Maoist rebellion by the government, King Gyanendra usurped all executive powers while bypassing major political parties on February 1, 2005. But this brought the mainstream political parties and the Maoist rebels together. In the historic 12-point understanding reached in November, 2005, the two political forces reached an agreement to jointly launch a struggle against autocratic monarchy and promulgate federal, democratic, republican constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly (CA). Subsequently, a joint people's movement was launched in April, 2006 that brought to an end the autocratic rule of the king. Subsequently, a comprehensive peace accord was signed between the Maoists and the government, the Interim Constitution of Nepal was promulgated in January, 2007, and new government comprising of rebel Maoist formed.
Following uncertainties for over a year, the first CA election was finally held in April, 2008. As the first CA was dissolved in April, 2012 without producing a new statute due to sharp differences among political parties, the second constituent assembly election was held in November, 2013 under the cabinet led by then chief justice Khil Raj Regmi. Although there are dissenting voices over the new statute especially in the Tarai-Madhes, the promulgation of new statute on Sunday not only institutionalizes the achievements made through the historic April uprising in 2006, but also materializes the deferred dream of Nepali people to draft new constitution through their elected representatives. As this constitution emerged as a document of compromise among parties with differing ideologies and viewpoints, this may not have incorporated all demands and aspirations of people. But what is true is constitution is a dynamic document and this can always be amended to suit the desire and aspirations of people. Hence, the days ahead are crucial for major parties to address genuine concerns of agitating parties and accommodate them in the new constitution.